WCQ playoff draw: Either Italy or Portugal won't reach World Cup
The 2022 World Cup will be missing either Cristiano Ronaldo or the reigning European champion.
The perennial contenders are among 12 European nations still in the running for a place in Qatar. The dozen teams, who all dropped into the playoffs after failing to win their respective qualifying groups, are vying for the final three slots allocated to Europe for next year's competition.
The refurbished playoff format, which divides the hopefuls into three sections - called "Paths" - will feature single-elimination matches for the semifinals and finals. The last team standing from each Path advances to the World Cup.
Should the Selecao and Azzurri each win their respective semis, they'll meet in a one-off encounter for a ticket to football's showpiece competition. Italy, which famously failed to qualify for the event in 2018 after losing a two-legged playoff against Sweden, has never missed consecutive men's World Cups. Portugal, meanwhile, has reached 11 straight major tournaments.
"It's a very difficult draw for us," Italy coach Roberto Mancini said. "North Macedonia is a very good team, and if we win we have to play away."
With the two top-ranked teams in the same Path, many of the remaining 10 nations will fancy their chances of securing a ticket to Qatar.
Here's how the draw unfolded in full:
- Semifinal: Scotland vs. Ukraine
- Semifinal: Wales vs. Austria
Home team in the final: Winner of Wales vs. Austria
- Semifinal: Russia vs. Poland
- Semifinal: Sweden vs. Czech Republic
Home team in the final: Winner of Russia vs. Poland
- Semifinal: Italy vs. North Macedonia
- Semifinal: Portugal vs. Turkey
Home team in the final: Winner of Portugal vs. Turkey
The semifinals are scheduled for March 24; the teams listed first in each matchup will play at home by virtue of being ranked in the draw. The playoff finals will take place March 29.
The 2022 World Cup in Qatar begins Nov. 21. This will be the first time in history that the tournament hasn't been held in either May, June, or July.